For most of the country, it makes sense for racing season to occur squarely in the summer months. Engines may run better in cold air, but tires, drivers and pit crew certainly don’t—not to mention girlfriends and wives, and spectators. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather visit Watkins Glen or Road America over a few warm summer days than set one foot out there in the dead of winter. But California… California is different.
Racing in the middle of summer out here is about as untenable as the cold of the dead of winter up north is, as engines not only despise the heat, they die in it. Brakes fade on warm-up laps, tires degrade into an oily liquid upon contact with the blistering pavement and let me tell you: hell hath no fury like a girlfriend or wife forced to endure a day of triple-digit heat at the track.
Fortunately, VTEC Club—CA’s premier one-make time attack series—understands this. Its 2019 calendar hosts six competition events from March through the end of November at different points in the California desert, and since there is one inevitable event in the middle of summer, they run it mostly at night.
This year’s night race started with the driver’s meetings at about 4:30 pm, followed by the start of competition. As VTEC Club is a time attack competition among drivers and cars in five groups (A, A2, N, N1, N2), the goal is always for drivers to clock their fastest possible laps every time out. Daytime events’ early morning sessions offer the coolest possible air temps and are the most hotly competitive. But with air temperatures of about 105 degrees, the night race’s first sessions were largely warm-ups.
While the heat kept the competition cool, veteran drivers led groups of new drivers and cars through the course during bigger sessions, gradually increasing speeds of lead-follow laps, then reconvening in the classroom to discuss the finer points of what was learned out on the track.
This is perhaps one of VTEC Club’s greatest strengths—while competition at the top of each group is deliberate, intense and often very close, there can be a large difference in lap times between first and last. Drivers shouldn’t think they have to be among the fastest in the field to get in on the action. Virtually anyone willing to learn and take steps to improve their driving and build can find a place here.
Lots of new faces dotted pit lane, with some eventually challenging the vets and landing on the podium—all in the same day!
This event was run in tandem with Extreme Speed’s Roadster Cup for Mazda Miata time attackers, and while the two groups’ points are exclusive to each other, everything else is shared.
Something to keep in mind is that VTEC Club isn’t a Honda-only time attack series. It’s a Honda-powered (only) time attack series. Past events have seen a Honda F20C-powered Miata and even a turbocharged, K24 VTEC-powered Noble M400 dominate the competition. This event’s black sheep was Jay Cab and his K24-powered No. 732 Toyota MR2 Spyder, running a best 1:31.9-second lap before suffering a water pump and head gasket failure. With the repairs already finished—Jay owns Opt Auto in San Bernardino—we’ll be sure to get more of this thing next time.
As the sun fell, temperatures, times, and participation began to rise. VTEC Club co-coordinator Amir Bentatou brought his turbocharged K20-powered Acura NSX out for the first time since GTA Finals at Buttonwillow last November, after a lengthy redevelopment process.
Pushing at about 70-percent, and with air temps still in the high 90s, he managed an insanely fast 1:21.753-second lap around Streets of Willow in the counterclockwise configuration. We’re eagerly looking forward to seeing what this thing can really do with some further refinements and added seat time.
For an idea of what a car and driver can accomplish when fully dialed in, I always suggest looking toward John Cruz and his “Goldy” EG Civic hatch. Naturally aspirated, B18-powered, on off-the-shelf Koni dampers and Ground Control coilovers, with 225-series tires, John and Goldy are notoriously fast. They came closest to Amir’s time, with a 1:22.921-second lap, winning Group A2 competition in the process.
That’s about a one-second difference from a turbocharged, K20-powered NS-friggin-X, driven by one of the best out there. For a FWD car with half the horsepower and rubber, that’s another eye-popping time from John and Goldy.
Many of the fastest laps were logged during those final sessions of daylight, with drivers making the most of cooling temperatures with lingering visibility. Group A2’s second-place finisher Clement Kwong and his Honda S2000 have made a successful jump up to A2 class, and while his 1:23.938-second time wasn’t enough to edge out freakishly fast John and Goldy, it was impressive, and the third quickest lap overall.
In Group N competition—a class usually dominated by S2000s—Thomas Van and his No. 555 EG Civic hatch clocked a best 1:25.174-second time, which was the fourth quickest overall of the event, earning him the class win just ahead of two Honda roadsters also running 1:25s, making for the closest podium of the round.
Nighttime brings cool air and track temps, but the darkness itself is a limiting factor for all but the most experienced drivers. This year’s events had eleven lights added to brighten the surface, but even with them, drivers had to know the course to fare well.
Most drivers ran their quickest times just before dark, with one exception being VTEC Club founder and co-coordinator Duane Bada. Duane and his now VTEC-enhanced, B20-powered No. 01 EK Civic hatch hadn’t yet competed in 2019, with Duane simply too busy running the show to have fun.
In his return to competition, Duane and his EK clocked a 1:25.192-second lap in the dark of night to clock the fifth-fastest run of the round, taking the Group N1 win by nearly two seconds over very fast second-place finisher Muoi Tran and her No. 47 EK, breaking the class lap record in the process.
Alas, VTEC Club isn’t solely about the competition. Really, it mostly isn’t. That’s always going to be the most exciting and quantifiable aspect of it, and thus one of the easiest to write. The soul of the series is in between these lines—it’s about escaping the real world and enjoying long days (and nights) at the track with friends.
Only at their halfway point for the year, there’s still lots more VTEC Club time attacking set to go down in the land of the hot, setting sun. Next, drivers trek back out to Chuckwalla Valley Raceway on 10/20, before wrapping up competition on 11/30 at Willow Springs’ Big Willow track for the annual Autumn Speed Festival. And if that’s not enough, there’s the Buttonwillow Open Challenge on 12/15, where VTEC Clubbers will take on competitors of all makes/models in the first of what will hopefully be a regular bonus round addition to their schedule.
To get involved, and for more coverage, follow the links and check out the gallery below: